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Big Dog, Small Dog: Make Your Dog Happier By Being Understood by Selina Mcintyre


Are you ready to learn to speak dog? Author and dog behaviour expert Selina Mcintyre has worked with dogs since she was a teenager, and it is clearly her life’s calling. In her book Big Dog, Small Dog, she teaches us how to observe and understand the innate behaviour of our canine companion, and through this understanding, improve the quality of life for both our dog and ourselves.


Big Dog Small Dog is packed with practical advice and natural ways to understand our dog’s world: what they really want from their daily walk, what they think about children, and the truth about dog parks...


The book starts with a section on puppies. Owning a dog is a huge responsibility and the more we prepare for such a major life decision, the more we empower ourselves. Before you choose a pup, Selina recommends you study the traits of the breed you’re drawn to. Will you have enough time and energy to give that boisterous Border Collie the exercise it needs? Give thought to your preferred pup’s personality type, and learn about the Critical Socialisation Period which helps a pup become a well-rounded adult dog.


Dogs are body language masters, Selina points out. Have you noticed how when you put your shoes and coat on, your dog reads that as walkies time? Your dog is reading your body language whether you are aware of it or not. By building our awareness of why our dog behaves like it does, we can start to work on new outcomes.


Useful tips on the main commands are covered in the book, and real case studies are provided to help illustrate working with specific challenges. Selina has been running a dog behavioural consultancy and dog training business called Dogs Best Friend since 2004, and has encountered most situations, including: dogs and cats, fixation, pent-up energy, fear of strangers, territorial aggression, barking, separation anxiety, rushing at visitors and barking at the television. The list goes on! The subject of raising a baby with a dog is also covered.


Like humans, there’s no such thing as a perfect dog, but a challenging behavioural issue can become habitual, if left unchecked. What may have been funny when it first happened (and we inadvertently rewarded the dog with positive attention) can become ingrained and problematic over time. Learning to communicate with our dog will help us get to the root cause of any issues that they might be experiencing.


Dogs are hierarchical animals and it’s easy to unknowingly elevate our dog above ourselves in the order of the pack. Are you lavishing attention on your dog the moment you step in the door? Selina recommends waiting for a few minutes before acknowledging your dog, and once it’s calm, calling it to you, showing that you are higher-ranked. Knowing that you are the leader of the pack will help your dog to relax, and take your commands more seriously.


Making positive changes requires the owner, as much as the dog, being prepared to learn and adjust behaviour, but the rewards are well worth it. Dog-training never ends, and requires understanding, consistency and commitment. Sounds like the basis of any good relationship, really. And can an older dog learn new tricks? Yes, it is possible.


Big Dog, Small Dog is easy-to-read, well laid-out and a testimony to Selina’s deep understanding of dogs. I recommend it as an invaluable resource for any dog owner.


Reviewer: Lorraine Steele

HarperCollins NZ, RRP $37.99